The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Seven Things You Never Knew About Bathing Pets

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Bathing Pets

It’s really not that hard to accomplish, but somehow we aren’t always keen to bathe our pets, assuming as we do that they might prefer to skip the experience. But most actually quite like it if they’re introduced to it as a fun and rewarding activity. Even those that don’t tend to feel refreshed after the fact. But here’s a question: Are you doing it right?

Lather, rinse, and repeat as needed on a regular basis. Nothing much to it. Still, there are some pitfalls. With that in mind, here are some salient tips on the subject of bathing:

#1 People Shampoo Is Not For Pets. But Why?

Two reasons: a) Because pets’ skin is acidic and b) because they don’t have sweat glands. A shampoo that’s formulated for humans is too acidic, which can affect the skin’s natural defensive barrier adversely. It’s also usually too harsh, since it’s designed for those with moister skin (sweat glands add moisture in human skin). Using the wrong shampoo can lead to dryness, irritation, flaking, and in some cases, even infection.

#2 Some Pets Rarely Need Bathing.

I know that seems wrong, but it’s nonetheless true that some pets can live lives that are nearly shampoo free. After all, dirt baths are a real and true thing. Using fine sand and clean soil to stimulate hair follicles and lift out debris is actually quite helpful for dogs. And forget the Grand Canyon; a cat’s sandpapery tongue is truly one of nature’s grandest miracles.

#3 But That Doesn’t Mean That Frequent Bathing Is Necessarily Bad.

Indeed, some pets require frequent baths to help manage their skin conditions. Some dermatologic diseases may even demand daily bathing treatments. But for those who don’t have healthcare concerns (for example, when caretakers demand a level of cleanliness beyond that which normal pets are capable of on their own), bathing weekly (or even more often) need not be verboten. Not as long as the right shampoo is selected. Soap-free shampoos are great for this, but ask your veterinarian for a suggestion.

#4 “Gentle” Shampoos Aren’t Necessarily So Mild.

Lots of my clients assume baby shampoos are best, or that all puppy and kitten shampoos are “gentle.” Not so! Apart from having an acidic pH (see #1) human baby shampoos can be harsher than they might seem. They might not sting eyes (some actually will anyway) but that doesn’t mean they won’t irritate pet skin. And some puppy and kitten shampoos can have harsh insecticides. Again, soap-free gets my vote.

#5 Flea And Tick Shampoos Are Unnecessary.

Yes, really. Wholly superfluous. All they’re good for is a bug massacre. Even then their efficacy isn’t what you’d think it’d be. Nor does it have much of a lasting effect. What’s more, though their safety is mistakenly believed to be superior to the monthly stuff, nothing could be further from the truth. Your veterinarian’s far more effective stash of new-fangled chewables and topicals enjoy a way better safety profile.

#6 Bathing Is A Great Tool For Allergic Humans.

Have allergies to pets? Think that means you have to live without pets? Think again. Consider first that bathing tremendously reduces the amount of dander on a pet. And dander (from the saliva) is the source of the protein humans with allergies are reacting to. Bathe the dander away and you might actually find that living with pets becomes much easier.

#7 Cats Can Learn To Love Baths.

That thing they say about cats hating water? Pure folklore. Plenty of cats do like water. Trouble is, most of them never get exposed to the whole bathing thing until they’re very much in need due to healthcare or household concerns (as when a human family member starts to suffer from allergies). As with all pets, even those who don’t start early can learn to tolerate bathing.

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